A motorcade carrying the body of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived at his home in the Japanese capital on Saturday, a day after he was assassinated by a lone gunman in a rare act of political violence that has shocked the country.
Mourners gathered at his residence and at the scene of Friday’s attack in the western city of Nara, where Japan’s longest-serving modern leader was gunned down while making a campaign speech, a murder decried by the political establishment as an attack on democracy itself.
Authorities are reviewing security arrangements at the event where Abe was shot from close range by a 41-year-old unemployed man armed with a homemade gun. Police say the man held a grudge against Abe.
Elections for seats in Japan’s upper house of parliament are going ahead as scheduled on Sunday.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was back on the campaign trail visiting regional constituencies after making an emergency return to Tokyo on Friday after the shooting.
A metal detector, not normally seen at election events in largely crime-free Japan, was installed at a site in Fujiyoshida city where Kishida was due to give a campaign speech. There was also a heavy police presence.
In Nara, some 450 km (280 miles) southwest of Tokyo, a stream of people queued up to lay flowers on a table, that also held a photograph of Abe.
“I’m just shocked that this kind of thing happened in Nara,” Natsumi Niwa, a 50-year-old housewife, said after offering her flowers, with her 10-year-old son, near the scene of the killing outside a downtown train station.
Niwa explained how Abe, a conservative and architect of the “Abenomics” policies aimed at reflating the economy, had inspired the name of her son, Masakuni. Abe used to hail Japan as a “beautiful nation”. “Kuni” means nation in Japanese.
A night vigil will be held on Monday. Abe’s funeral will take place on Tuesday, attended by close friends, media said. There was no immediate word on any public memorial service.
Police are scrambling to establish details of the motive and method of Abe’s killer.
The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, arrested immediately after the attack, told police he believed Abe was linked to a religious group he blamed for ruining his mother financially and breaking up the family, media reported, citing police sources.
Police have not identified the group.
The man told investigators he had also visited other spots where Abe had made campaign appearances, including in the city of Okayama, more than 200 km (120 miles) from Nara, media reported.
BIG ELECTION TURNOUT EXPECTED
Sunday’s election is expected to deliver victory to the ruling coalition led by Kishida, an Abe protege.
Abe’s killing “heightens the prospect for stronger turnout and greater support for his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)”, Eurasia Group analysts wrote in a note.
The LDP, where Abe retained considerable influence, had already been expected to gain seats before the assassination. Abe, 67, served twice as prime minister, stepping down citing ill health on both occasions.
But he remained a member of parliament and influential leader in the LDP after stepping down for the second time in 2020.
A strong election performance by the LDP “could catalyse Kishida to push for Abe’s unfulfilled goal of amending Japan’s constitution to allow for a stronger role for the military”, James Brady, vice president at advisory firm Teneo, wrote in a note.
Kishida visited Abe’s residence in Tokyo to pay his respects on Saturday, the Kyodo news agency reported, alongside mourners clutching flowers and party officials who bowed as the hearse carrying his body arrived.
Abe’s death has drawn condolences from across political divides, and from around the world.
The Quad, a group of countries aimed at countering China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region which Abe was key in setting up, expressed shock at the assassination in a joint statement.
“We will honour Prime Minister Abe’s memory by redoubling our work towards a peaceful and prosperous region,” said the group which includes Japan, India, Australia and the United States.
China’s President Xi Jinping also paid tribute to Abe who he said worked hard to improve relations between the neighbours, Chinese state media reported.